BRAIN WAVES

Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Blog

Missy Byrd to be Honored as 2023 Courageous Veteran

Life has a funny way of making coincidences not so… coincidental. One minute, Missy Byrd is a survivor of brain injury; the next, she’s competing to win a million dollars on one of television’s biggest reality competitions, Survivor.

And now, the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona will honor her with the prestigious Courageous Veteran award at the Brainiac Bash Soiree Supporting Brain Health on January 14, 2023.

“Be kind, spread love. You never know what the person next to you is going through.”

Missy Byrd to be Honored as 2023 Courageous Veteran

Life has a funny way of making coincidences not so… coincidental. One minute, Missy Byrd is a survivor of brain injury; the next, she’s competing to win a million dollars on one of television’s biggest reality competitions, Survivor.

And now, the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona will honor her with the prestigious Courageous Veteran award at the Brainiac Bash Soiree Supporting Brain Health on January 14, 2023.

“Be kind, spread love. You never know what the person next to you is going through.”
For years, Missy has been sharing her compelling story to help others understand the importance of diagnosing and treating brain injury as early as possible.

The Georgia native was a cadet at the Air Force Academy when she experienced two serious events within a year of each other. “I played basketball for the Air Force team and during a game, I got hit then kicked on the back of my head,” Missy explains. “I suffered from a serious traumatic brain injury that had lasting effects.”

This “mild” concussion left her with a great deal of memory loss, as well as difficulty with direction, map comprehension, and time awareness. What’s more, constant light and bright lights were painful.

Missy’s other brain injury, a tumor, brought different symptoms— Her hormones started going crazy and she stopped having her period. “It was unknown to everyone I had a brain tumor growing on my pituitary gland,” she shares. “It grew for nine months unnoticed. I experienced a lot of trauma mentally and physically trying to figure out what exactly was going on.”

Both experiences caused her to mature faster than a normal 22-year-old. “Those close to me were so concerned for what I was going through. My stress became their stress,” she acknowledges.

Having a brain tumor has changed Missy’s outlook on life, especially regarding how she views obstacles. Even though she now has a calmer demeanor, she is anything but complacent. “Do what you want now Instead of saving it for later, because sometimes later never comes.”

This “seize the day” approach is what led her to audition for Survivor.

“I made my tumor bucket list, which was all the things I thought I wouldn’t be able to do,” she shares. “Survivor was always something I wanted to try out for but never found the time or the motivation to actually apply to. After my tumor experience, I said, ‘Why not?!’ and started the process.”

She learned more than she’d bargained for, in the best of ways.

“My main takeaways were to always try because you never know, and the ‘what ifs’ can tear you apart. Also, when you are starving on an island, what is important to you in life becomes very apparent,” she says. “Take time, listen to your body and do what needs to be done for your health and mental sanity.”

The irony of being on a show bearing a name that so accurately reflects her experience with brain injury is not lost on Missy—she is a survivor through and through. The go-forth-boldly persona she developed while on Survivor remains, and is in part responsible for her current involvement with the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ).

Missy encourages awareness of brain injury in others, as it is a disability that is not often obvious or easy to detect. Since anyone around us can be shouldering hidden scars from this invisible disability, whether it’s someone on the bus or a cashier at the café, she promotes compassion. “Be kind, spread love. You never know what the person next to you is going through,” Missy advises.

Also on her bucket list was moving to Spain, which she checked off when she spent a year living there for a year teaching English to fifth graders. “It was cool experiencing another country,” she enthuses. “No matter what course was being taught, we were giving kids life lessons about kindness and adversity.”

Upon her return to the States, Missy got involved with the film industry as a script supervisor and actor, while learning how to produce. She is also a proud new homeowner living in Denver, developing her portfolio, which involves starring in a new reality show.

If that’s not enough, she chairs the Brain Injury Alliance’s Young Professionals Brain Health Advisory Council, raising awareness of the effects of this invisible disability. “This eclectic group has super-amazing positivity and is always looking to improve ways to spread awareness of brain health,” Missy shares.

If ever living proof was needed that having a brain injury doesn’t mean your life stops, Missy Byrd is the evidence. It just means you live each new day to the fullest.

“Life is pretty good,” says the Courageous Veteran Honoree.

ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF ARIZONA

The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members and professionals.

What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.

The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona:

  • Works with Congressional Brain Injury Task Force
  • Houses Arizona Brain Health Resource Center
  • Hosts virtual and in-person support groups for survivors and families
  • Has Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Response team with peer support, training, and family wraparound services
  • Facilitates Brain Health Advisory Council
  • Manages statewide Neuro Info-Line: 888-500-9165

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